“Scaring the hoes” is slang for a specific style of hip-hop on the rap internet: anything abrasive, strange, or excessively poetic, intended for repeated careful listening. In a broader sense, the term has developed into a euphemism for any rap deemed inappropriate for a party or other comparable social situation. To frighten the attendees, Death Grips should be played at the event. Born from a meme of existential non sequiturs, the distinction is less about what women might actually enjoy listening to casually and more about guys missing common cues and failing to recognize that there is a time and place for a certain kind of artist, one that may disrupt the natural flow of a gathering, or worse, something so intrusive or annoying that the most important things are disrupted.
JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown are obvious first-round candidates in this area; they are idiosyncratic craftspeople with distinctive catalogs that call for some ear-recalibration. The two rappers’ latest collaboration, however, makes it plain that they view that seemingly innocent request to simply let the Rap Caviar playlist run as something more sinister: a submission to homogenized, mass-produced music, serving as entertainment for revelers who could not possibly care less about the form. On the title track of Scaring the Hoes, Brown mimics the frantic exploitations of a money-grubbing music executive: “Said it ain’t about the bars ’cause it’s all about the brand / Say it ain’t about the art, ’cause it’s all about the fans / Give a f*** about a fan, put the money in my hand.”
JPEG and Brown are both aware of the impact of blaxploitation, and the album’s cover image pays homage to the 1973 movie Sweet Jesus, Preacherman in order to evoke those aesthetics. However, the soundtrack is even more in keeping with the defining characteristics of those films: independently produced, glaringly low budget, and delightfully rebellious. The textual indicators in this instance are digital, including the Nextel chirp, the standard iMessage notification tone, sounds from odd YouTube tutorials, and Nintendo and Sega video game sounds. The SP-404 sampler, a favorite of live show producers, was used by JPEG to produce the album, giving the music an almost collage-like texture. The samples have a distorted, fuzzy tone.
The vocal flips, drawn from a variety of sources, such as Diddy’s “I Need A Girl (Pt. 2),” NSYNC’s “Gone,” Kelis’ “Milkshake,” the anime The Vision of Escaflowne, and a Hokkaido tourism advertisement, frequently change into a secondary form resembling a shonen protagonist. The title track of JPEG’s latest album, Scaring the Hoes, is defiantly distorted, converting a screeching Dirty Beaches outtake into a brutalist rap flamenco or giving lounge-room jazz a raver feel on “Jack Harlow Combo Meal.” This contrasts with JPEG’s modest previous album, LP! (which he also produced, mixed, and mastered himself). While doing so, its co-stars maneuver through these set pieces with the skill of action stunt doubles, crashing through everything in their way.
Compromise or rivalry are frequent themes in collaborative projects. In this case, JPEG approached Brown with the concept (as a devoted fan), and their arrangement doesn’t need much of either artist. As skillfully as ever, Brown practices his outrageous pimp raps, and his whining, off-kilter flows flutter over the busy production like a tube man being pulled through a car wash. JPEG, the foul-mouthed comic on stage, is challenging any keyboard warriors smearing him to one-on-one combat while mocking hecklers with a megaphone. There isn’t much interaction because JPEG’s initiative and Brown’s casualness don’t naturally complement one another like they do in Run the Jewels.
When Brown is awake, JPEG is on standby, and when Brown is relaxed, JPEG is on watch. This technique produces a natural pendulum-like rhythm. In “Steppa Pig,” Brown jumps out rudely before giving his partner the runway. It seems like JPEG is warming up for the closer on “Where Ya Get Ya Coke From?” This is not intended to be a specialized punk-rap version of What a Time to Be Alive or Watch the Throne. A strange couple of bachelors are bum-rushing the show. It’s called Wedding Crashers.
The taunting in this song has a tone that tends toward drawing you in rather than pushing you away from it, which is typical of noise rap. On “Shut Yo Bitch Ass Up / Muddy Waters,” Brown raps, “You satire, camp fires to Al-Qaeda / I’m like the only lighter in Rikers.” This is just one of several verses chock full of numb-faced, drug-induced oversharing. Similar signifiers are navigated by JPEG from a more resentful standpoint: “Baby, I cannot do nothing with hope; I’ma try Molly and Xans; Back in this bitch with the drugs, she’s backin’ it up for a gram; Boy, you ain’t Kai; one twitch and you’re barred; 90 degrees with a coat, ho; and I ain’t showin’ my hands. You’ve been trying to get me to ghost.
And that, in a nutshell, may be the most clever way to play into the perception of “scaring the hoes”: Create something deliberately repellent and dare the audience to stick around. Scaring the Hoes is a speaker knocker masquerading as a party ender, a super-referential album of gags and antics and innuendos with raps about gags and antics and innuendos. Criticism of late has favored talk of music that “sounds like the internet,” but few recent projects can rival this one in its feed-like reproduction of context collapse and its Web 2.0-like compression of information.